German Research Chairs at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS)

Portraits

“Artifical Intelligence is becoming ever more important on the continent of Africa!”

 Bubacarr Bah

Bubacarr Bah – German Research Chair at AIMS South Africa

In his field of work, he addresses the most important topics of our time: Big Data, machine learning and artificial intelligence. “These topics are becoming ever more important on the continent of Africa, too,” Bubacarr Bah predicts. Through his work, he wants to ensure that Africa is better equipped to meet future challenges in these areas. Since 2016, the mathematician from Gambia has held the German Research Chair in Mathematics with a Specialisation in Data Science at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in South Africa.

Two examples illustrate how his work is already making an impact: He cooperates with an agricultural firm that took thousands of aerial photographs of an orange plantation in order to predict crop yield. Bah and his team developed the requisite algorithms to evaluate the images. In addition, he cooperates with a medical research institute and helps to evaluate and interpret medical data which are increasingly being collected in Africa, as well. This could help to fight disease.

Bah completed his doctorate in applied and computational mathematics at the University of Edinburgh, UK, and subsequently continued his research at distinguished institutes at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, and the University of Texas in Austin, United States. Returning to Africa is a great opportunity, he feels. “At AIMS I can not only continue my own research but also promote young mathematicians and build national and international networks.” He is convinced that talented mathematicians on the continent of Africa have good prospects.

 

“Mathematics offers huge optimization potential to the African people.”

 Moustapha Fall

Mouhamed Moustapha Fall – German Research Chair at AIMS Senegal

It was his teachers who had sparked his enthusiasm for mathematics when he was still a child, says Moustapha Fall. Having completed his doctorate at the renowned International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy, in 2009, he continued his research, amongst others, at Goethe University Frankfurt. His host at the time, Professor Tobias Weth, is full of praise: “He is completely unfazed by complicated, technically sophisticated issues” and was able to recognise lines connecting methods even between very disparate mathematical fields.

Since 2013, Moustapha Fall has held the AIMS Chair in M’bour, Senegal. His work is located at the intersection of analysis and geometry. His overarching goal is always to convince people of all educational backgrounds in Africa, whether graduates or illiterates, of the optimization potential of mathematics by using examples of practical applications. He thus tried to solve the problem of M’bour’s fishermen. He asked himself why they sometimes caught a lot of fish and sometimes hardly any.  In cooperation with Professor Agostino Merico from the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research in Bremen, he studied cooperation behaviour among fishermen in M’bour. The team developed a mathematical model to predict the behavioural conditions under which fishing becomes a sustainable practice or leads to a human-resource collapse. There is now an App with which other scientists, including behavioural economists, can study fishermen behaviour and fish stocks dynamics under different experimental conditions.

 

“The opportunity to give something back to my continent is invaluable.”

 Olivier Menoukeu Pamen

Olivier Menoukeu Pamen – German Research Chair at AIMS Ghana

“The opportunity to give something back to my continent is invaluable,” said Olivier Menoukeu Pamen when he assumed the AIMS Research Chair in Mathematics and its Applications in Ghana in October 2016. The extent to which Pamen’s expertise in his special fields of probability calculation and statistics can benefit the continent is illustrated by one of the mathematician’s current projects: Just as in many African countries, microcredits are also very popular in Ghana. Pamen’s research has shown, however, that lenders often lack experience in realistically calculating refinancing costs, default probability and external influencing factors. As a result, the credits and the estimated interest are often granted on the basis of false assumptions. In order to help lenders put their calculations on a reliable footing, since 2019, Pamen has been working together with an institute in Ghana that grants microcredits.

Pamen’s engagement with financial mathematics goes right back to his doctorate at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. He subsequently spent several years in Europe. After a postdoctoral sojourn in Oslo, he held a permanent position in the Department of Financial and Actuarial Mathematics at the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom. At AIMS Ghana he wants to share his experience with the students and apply his knowledge to current and future challenges facing Africa.

 

“Mathematics can help to solve some of the major problems of our times.”

Gisèle Mophou

Gisèle Mophou – German Research Chair at AIMS Cameroon

“Mathematics can help to solve some of the major problems of our times,” says Gisèle Mophou, expressing her enthusiasm for her subject. She cites the example of her own working group at AIMS Cameroon where, from 2017 to the end of 2019, she holds the chair in Applied Mathematics with a Specialisation in Optimal Control: The researchers describe environmental pollution and health problems using mathematical tools from which they develop models that make the problems tangible and help to find ways of tackling them.

Mophou took a doctorate in numerical mathematics and assumed a professorship at the Université des Antilles et de la Guyane, Guadeloupe, in 2013. “I was looking for new challenges,” says the Cameroon-born researcher, explaining her motivation in accepting the chair at AIMS. “It was an opportunity to give something back to my own country.” She particularly promotes young, female researchers. “I have held lectures at universities and schools and told my own story, how, as a woman, I became a professor.” She wants to make people start thinking differently so that, in the future, more girls and women in Africa will be brave enough and also have the opportunity to enter academia.

 

“I want my research to help refine existing methods and develop alternative approaches.”

 Marc Sedjro

Marc Sedjro – German Research Chair at AIMS South Africa

Every year, tropical hurricanes claim lives and destroy entire regions. In Africa, the most recent example was Cyclone Idai which wrought devastation, especially in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. If we want to reduce the impact of such storms in the future, better predictions about the exact path of the storm would be a way forward. “I want my research to help refine existing methods and develop alternative approaches,” says Marc Sedjro, describing one possible effect of his work. In 2019, the mathematician from Togo assumed the German Research Chair in Applied Mathematics with a Specialisation in Partial Differential Equations and Calculus of Variations at AIMS South Africa. He spent the previous two years in Tanzania as head of the AIMS Chair in Applied Mathematics.

In addition to fluid mechanics, Sedjro and his team conduct research into game theory. They investigate the mathematics behind large moving groups such as shoals of fish. In this field Sedjro also cooperates with the Information Theory Group at TU Berlin, Germany. He is well acquainted with the German research landscape having spent three years working on research at RWTH Aachen University after completing his doctorate at Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States.

Dealing with mathematics, Sedjro believes, has advantages that go beyond the subject itself: “Mathematics encourages logical thinking in general. We address issues without letting ourselves be influenced by emotions and opinions.” A skill that can prove very useful in many areas of life.